When I heard they were making a Mr. Peabody and Sherman movie, I forgot almost instantly. I was familiar with the series, but I had never really gotten into it altogether. The marketing for the film never seemed to grab me, and I only attended my Tuesday night press screening because I had nothing better to do and my buddy seemed to be more interested in it then I was. I mention all these factors to say that I was pleasantly surprised by not only how much I enjoyed the film, but by how often and how hard Rob Minkoff’s latest directorial outing made me guffaw. Mind you, this isn’t by any stretch of the imagination as masterful as Minkoff’s The Lion King. There are some frustrating script and pacing issues, and the film has a tendency to learn toward schmaltz more often than is necessary, but screenwriter Craig Wright so greatly brings out the humor in his story it’s easy to recommend the film simply because of its wit.
Maybe I just picked the perfect year to start coming, but I suspect that the 2014 True/False Fest was fairly typical of the event’s high quality and welcoming atmosphere. It’s definitely a film festival to watch, and to attend yourself, if you get the chance. I know I’ll be back. Here are my final thoughts via some awards. (Note: because of its slightly different nature, I’ve not made Richard Linklater’s Boyhood eligible for any of these awards. Hopefully you don’t need me to tell you that you should see this film as soon as you possible can.)
Pier Palo Pasolini’s second feature, Mamma Roma, is a beautiful film about a mother’s sacrifice to provide a better life for her son. Pasolini uses echoes of the Neorealism style that was established out of necessity 17 years prior by Roberto Rossellini, Vitorio De Sica and others. It’s a style that utilizes non-professional actors and existing sets and locations, partly to lower the costs of the film and partly to evoke a more natural, realistic quality. The only professional actor Pasolini uses in the film is the lead, Anna Magnani, who was in Rome, Open City (1945) which is considered the first film in the Neorealism movement.
There are plenty of great movies about there about the simmering tensions within families. There are numerous fascinating and compelling looks at brothers who have grown in separate directions, who have ancient resentments that are never fully buried and never quite die. There are movies about relationships being repaired in the event of a tragedy, and many of these are even comedic. Then there’s Awful Nice, a train-wreck of a movie that is insight-free, completely without nuance, and wholly unable to conjure even a single chuckle.
Intimate familiarity with the set design of the 45th Academy Awards isn’t necessary to notice the falsity of The Activist’s re-enactment of one of the ceremony’s most well-remembered moments, but it certainly helps. Why writer and director Cyril Morin opts to include his own interpretation of the moment Sacheen Littlefeather refused the Best Actor Oscar on Marlon Brando’s behalf isn’t quite clear until several scenes later, but regardless it offers a nicely microcosmic moment. This is a film borne and broken by its tight ties to the past; even where it gets its words right in the recreation of history, it’s its inability to dress the stage that holds it back from ever really being entirely accurate.
Pride can be awfully difficult. No, I am not going on a diatribe on “the sin of pride” or something equally as entitled, so you can quietly unclench; but, in short, no one likes a bragger. I do not deny that having good things happen to you is a fantastic experience, but proceeding to walk around with a puffed-up chest like some kind of chicken hawk to society’s Foghorn Leghorn, is universally bothersome. The one thing that could make this incessant self-praise just that little bit more annoying is when in actuality you have nothing of note to be so superlatively proud of. Strutting about as if you have cured cancer, when all you did was open a bottle of Advil. The Bag Man is a cinematic Henery Hawk.
An example of cinéma vérité documentary filmmaking, Particle Fever (Levinson, 2013) informs the public about the Large Hadron Collider and its impact on modern physics. Despite its realist sense of authenticity which is rendered through primary source interviews and video journals, the film utilizes a number of dramatic effects such as animation and sound editing to not only make the film more appealing to the fictional film viewer, but to enhance the perceived validity of their own arguments. In some cases the photographic manipulation is downright ethically wrong, as most journalists would agree that photo manipulation done for aesthetic purposes reduces an image’s authenticity, but for the majority of the film, Levinson simply wants to make an otherwise boring subject that much more interesting. For this reason, it may lose a few points as a documentary, but Particle Fever is undeniably more fascinating as a result.
Bettie Page has become the rarest of things in the nearly 60 years since she retired from modeling: a legend and a full out cultural institution. Though she left the public eye in 1957, Page exploded in popularity in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, influencing feminism, fashion, comics (she was the basis for the love interest in The Rocketeer) and pop culture as a whole. She has influenced cultural icons like Madonna, Dita Von Teese, and Beyonce, as well as appearing in numerous magazines, calendars, and posters, and on pretty much every product imaginable, from shoes and light-switch plates to lunchboxes and poker-chips. She is the pin-up girl, the one who started a phenomenon and changed the way people viewed modeling, sexuality, nudity, and pornography with her force of personality and effortless charm.
A trio of determined, dramatic and destined young want-to-be punk rockers take on the perils of the everyday in 1982 Stockholm. Rarely do we see narratives that genuinely manage to interpret and showcase the mindsets of 12-13 year olds. Successfully achieving the world of the adolescent is a lot harder than representing that of a child. Many darker and heavier themed analogies of events through a child’s eyes are offered up by both mainstream and independent filmmakers on a pretty regular basis. Ranging from Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) with the Spanish civil war, to the Christmas classic Home Alone (1990) with an American boy left alone in his house. It takes a bold step forwards to remove that somehow essential moment of trauma and turn to everyday normal life situations. We Are the Best! allows three girls to develop their sense of identity through the mundane realities of their regular lives, in the midst of which they see creating a punk rock band as a way to escape.
Imagine the last twenty minutes of The Man Who Knew Too Much, but instead of just Hitchcock behind the camera you also had the likes of Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Roman Polanski and Steven Spielberg joining him. This is the closest I can come to describing the cinematic ecstasy that is Eugenio Mira’s Grand Piano. On the surface, Grand Piano is an awesome idea executed to near perfection, but moments into the opening of this movie it becomes clear that this is an exquisitely crafted love letter to moviemaking and the minds behind our favorite movies. If you love movies even in the slightest, Grand Piano is required viewing.